The tribute reading Monday, overall, was a great time. We had a crowd of about 75-80 people, a good receptive audience. Irene didn't feel up to attending, so we had to shuffle the program and reading order over dinner--several of us picked up an additional poem or short piece that we thought should be read, deciding on each person taking about 7-8 minutes of time. That was a really fascinating moment for me--no egos flared up, no one seemed anxious to take more time or angled for one of her show-stopper pieces. We just tossed out poems we individually loved, worked out an order and went with it.
Eight of us read from Irene's work and spoke briefly about her. Eight very different readings and emphases on why she matters to us and why her work does and should as well. It was sort of a rush for me because I got to read alongside friends and people whose work I admire but that I'd never heard read. During dinner I joked that it was like a covers album--and I was half-way nervous that I'd end up delivering the poetry equivalent of karaoke. As Monday afternoon went on I was a little nervous just for the fact that Brian was there and he'd never seen me read in public before. I got over that pretty quickly when it struck me I was reading someone else's work and that I should try, as much as possible, to make it sound like her or approximate the ways the work resounds in my head as I read it and not try to make them into "me" poems.
I chose two poems from Vivid Companion, "Ironweed," and "Full Moon: Sitting Up Late at My Father's Bedside." I had a sense (wrongly) that poems from her third book, Six O'Clock Mine Report, would be more prevalent than work from the other books. Actually, once we were done, her first book The Girl With the Stone in Her Lap and Vivid Companion were the most represented--shows what I know. Had I known, I might have picked a couple from Six O'Clock to read. The poems that were read from Six O'Clock are among the best (or maybe I'm biased because they are particular favorites of mine) and I'm glad that they were presented. Likewise, the prose pieces from Girl were a surprising choice--but I can see why they resonate.
If I were to complain about anything, it'd be the actual space itself. It's an interesting auditorium, but the very architecture of the space coupled with the sound system made it muddy and echoey for those of us on-stage to listen. I ended up reading along with several of the poems from Vivid and found myself fighting to make sense of what they were saying in places. It didn't seem to be an issue for the audience--or else Brian didn't tell me.
Other than all that, the only other moment that stands out fell after the reading. Brian and I ran outside for a quick smoke and to call a friend to see about having a drink later that evening. On the way back in I was stopped by a woman in a red t-shirt and khaki shorts who asked "How did you get picked to do this?"